With the spread of sexually transmitted diseases becoming more and more of a problem, it’s no surprise to see popular culture mediums picking up on the risk. The only surprise is that they’re not more prevalent in entertainment, as art mimics life, but there’s still a certain taboo apparent which makes each instance remarkable. Here’s some of the more memorable instances of STD is music, film and even video games!
The subject of sexually transmitted disease in film has been explored on an academic level, and indeed an article in a 2005 Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine made an interesting discovery with regards to STD in cinema. Taking the top 200 films as voted for on the Internet Movie Database (removing films pre the HIV epidemic and those unlikely to contain adult themes) it was reported that there were 53 sex scenes in 28 of the remaining 87 films reviewed, and only one of those implied the use of a condom. There were no depictions of consequences of this recklessness – no pregnancies, HIV or any other STD. It went on to report a few references to STDs in the dialogue (“disease spreading whore”, “I get checked every month”), but generally the scripts encouraged promiscuity and ridiculed celibacy.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this, and especially if you veer beyond the mainstream of IMDB’s top rated films. The first example of this is 1938’s “Sex Madness” (currently rated 2.0/10 on said film database) – a horribly heavy handed warning on the evils of loose living and the risk of resultant syphilis ruining your life. 1983’s TV movie “Intimate Agony” (5.3/10) fares a little better as a morality play, but had its thunder stolen weeks after its release when the AIDs epidemic started to make headlines. Films tackling HIV and AIDs are far more common, but two of the best examples are 1993’s TV movie “And the Band Played On” (7.6/10) – a dramatisation of the history of AIDS – and 1994’s “Philadelphia” (7.6/10) which depicts an AIDS’ sufferer’s court case against wrongful dismissal. The latter won 2 Oscars for Tom Hanks’ accurate and affecting portrayal of the physical deterioration brought on by the end stages of the sexually transmitted disease.
Music is naturally that bit harder to track down definitive overt examples of sexually transmitted diseases in lyrics – they’re often just too ambiguous. Then again, Ice Cube’s “Look Who’s Burnin'” is pretty blatant in its subject matter: a trip to take an STD test…
“Yeah I see ya
First Miss Thang, now Miss Gonorrhea
Man it’s a trip how the world keeps turnin’
It’s 1991 and look who’s burnin'”
“Man this is gonna kill ’em
Guess who got a big fat dose of penicillin?”
Elsewhere, we’re left to read between the lines that little bit more. It’s rumoured that ACDC’s “The Jack” is not about a round of cards at all, but about Gonorrhea (depending on who you believe, it was either once called The Clap or ‘The Jack’ was Australian slang at the time). With this knowledge the song takes on a whole new meaning:
“That all the cards were comin’
From the bottom of the pack
And if I’d know what she was dealin’ out
I’d have dealt it back”
Finally, we have The Darkness with “Growing on Me” – a charming ditty supposedly about the difficult subject of Genital Warts:
“I want to shake you off but you just won’t go,
And you’re all over me, but I don’t want anyone to know
That you’re attached to me that’s how you’ve grown
Won’t you leave me, leave me alone?”
If Mr Hawkins was talking about Genital Warts, then a visit to his local clinic could present several options to make them “leave him alone” including chemicals, freezing or laser removal! He might also want to take other STD tests while there as co-infection is common…
Unsurprisingly, games have thus far steered well clear of the area of sexually transmitted disease, but the upcoming Fable 2 is said to buck this trend. The role playing game allows your avatar to have sex with various characters throughout the game world – with or without a condom. If you risk the latter, pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease may occur (though the head developer has promised that virtual STDs will not affect the game too much.) As it’s still in development, it’s unclear as to how the STDs will be portrayed and whether the game can prove a lesson in safe sex, but it’s an intriguing concept.
As STD tests become more prevalent and the science of them is better understood, will we see more occurrences in popular culture, or will they be swept further under the carpet? Only time will tell.